The concept of regenerative goes a step further beyond sustainability to restore and revitalise systems. Applied to travel, regenerative travel means being able to “leave a place better” (Elaine Glusac, NY Times) than it was. As we travel, we should travel with an aim to positively impact the communities and environment we come in touch with.
By now, we know the common critics of travel which must be resolved in the green transition.
- High carbon emissions
If we’d like to keep everybody’s favourite pastime, embracing regenerative travel on an industry-wide level is necessary.
As we founded Terraformers, a start-up focused on building a regenerative travel ecosystem, it has been a learning journey for us as we continue to explore the future of travel. In our process of sharing and ideating with others, we’ve received some common reactions, and want to spend some time doing a deep dive.
- Is the xxx [attraction] sustainable? Will you build new attractions that are sustainable?
The easy first step to sustainable travel is to support attractions that are ethical, environmentally conscious and hence more sustainable. This can be done by doing thorough research into the policies of the destination country or city and discovering if there are existing initiatives or benchmarks that you could use as a guide. For example, in Norway, they have destinations that are labelled sustainable for tourism.
But here, it is worthwhile to further examine what makes travel unsustainable. Pre-pandemic, 49% of carbon emissions associated with travel is attributed to transportation. (Sustainable Travel International) Part of this transportation emission is driven by a mentality to do as much as we can, in the shortest amount of time while we travel.
In addition, mass tourism causes devastating environmental and social impacts. “Overtourism is the point at which the needs of tourism become unsustainable for a given destination.” (Green Global Travel) When we are all conditioned to visit the same places, at the same time, this takes a toll on local populations and the environment.
Hence, it is necessary to change the way we consume travel. Like any other form of consumption, the way we travel has to be more mindful and conscious.
- The movement should be centred on advocating for eco-tourism/farmstay projects.
Eco-tourism projects are the existing niche solutions made available for sustainable travels. Such projects usually involve a period of volunteering and living with locals.
At what scale could this be adopted? It is not uncommon for Gen Zs to participate in these projects as a form of self-development experience. In fact, “more than one-third value voluntourism”. (Shirley Brady, RGA) However, these offerings have been around for a long time, but they have not become the main mode of leisure travel. Mass tourism remains and continues. We have to initiate a deeper mindset and perception change to enable these offerings to play a bigger role in the future of sustainable travels.
- I can travel regeneratively if I donate to offset all my emissions.
This is a low hanging fruit but it is also pretty irresponsible to shake off the sustainability problem with offsets. The whole mentality of paying off our problems led us to this dire situation we are in. The price of carbon is not properly accounted for in the donation and carbon offset space. In addition, even with proper pricing, carbon offsets “could only compensate for around 4 per cent of current global greenhouse gas emissions” (Michael Holder, 2021). Emphasis needs to be put on actually solving the problem, and not finding shortcuts.
With the above said, it does not mean that we discourage offsets/ecotourism. We are careful to not underestimate the scale of the problem and pretend that it can be solved simply with carbon offsets. At Terraformers, we believe that carbon offsets are a good short-term solution, but an underlying behaviour change towards mindful, non-extractive consumption is necessary.
- Does it count if I planted a tree every time I travelled?
There is no dispute that planting trees is nature’s solution to sequester all the carbon and is the most efficient and effective. However, the real question to ask is How many trees can we plant? Are they enough? “(T)rees can play a significant role in stopping dangerous climate change – provided we plant them in the right places. The challenge will be finding ways to fit huge new forests into our societies in such a way that people accept them.” (Michael Marshall, BBC). There have been multiple disputes on the scientific front on the number of trees needed to reverse climate change, but all of them also point to how costly and infeasible it is for tree planting to be the one solution that can support our current form of consumption.
Our approach to regenerative travel is to enable the behaviour change necessary to prevent over-tourism and reduce travel emissions. We believe regenerative travel is not a niche offering, but the curation of an overall experience built on the fundamentals of sustainability. As avid travellers ourselves, we know every traveller craves a good time and the best experience. We want to deliver this experience at the lowest carbon footprint. Our goal is to build the future of travel on the principle of “less is more”. We will continue to study and evolve our understanding of regenerative travel as we grow in our start-up journey. We will be posting more updates as we continue to develop. We are based in Singapore and are part of the Audacity community. Reach out to us via email, or if you are in Singapore, let’s catch up over coffee for more ideations. We appreciate your support on this journey of transforming the future of travels.